The Nittany Lion Shrine Marks 70 Years
By Molly Sheerer
UNIVERSITY PARK – Yesterday, one of the hallmarks of Penn State – the Nittany Lion Shrine – celebrated the 70th anniversary of its dedication.
Whether students grew up as Penn State fans or they began “bleeding blue and white” when they first stepped on the University Park campus, the shrine is an important part of their lives.
A gift of the class of 1940, the statue was completed by sculptor Heinz Warneke from a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone in 1942. Since then, it has become the most photographed spot on campus.
In addition to the original shrine at University Park, each of Penn State’s campus locations has received its own version of the statue. Paige Blawas, a senior at University Park who attended Penn State Altoona for two years, believes the Nittany Lion Shrine signifies the solidarity of the Penn State community as a whole. “To me, the Lion Shrine represents the unity and comradeship I feel as a Penn Stater,” she said.
As her time as a student at Penn State comes to an end, Blawas said the shrine has become a bittersweet symbol. “As a senior, the shrine is a reminder that my college years are drawing to a close,” she said. “I feel intense pride but also a twinge of sadness every time I pass it because I realize that I will soon be leaving the place that has molded me into an adult.”
Every fall, on the Friday before the Homecoming football game, students gather to guard the Lion Shrine, a time-honored tradition. This year Sue Paterno joined the crowd to speak about the highly regarded sculpture. Freshman John Wortman attended the event, his first Penn State Homecoming.
“At the Guard the Lion Shrine event, I really enjoyed learning more about the statue’s history in Sue’s speech,” Wortman said. “As a kid, I could just feel how important the Lion Shrine was to the University. Now as a student, I fully realize its importance and how sacred a place it is for all students and alumni.”
The Class of 2012 recognized the importance of the Nittany Lion Shrine with their senior class gift, which will provide improved lighting, accessibility and landscaping for the area surrounding the shrine, and also an interpretive, historical display about the shrine and its creator. Recently, students involved with the senior class gift project remarked that they all felt honored to be a part of continuing the Lion Shrine’s legacy.
Even after they graduate, many Penn Staters maintain a special regard for the Nittany Lion Shrine. Having grown up in Hershey and visiting family in State College, then attending Penn State and now working for the University, Jordan Ford has had a continuous connection with the sculpture.
“Having your photo taken at the shrine is an essential part of the Penn State experience,” he said. “Nearly every day you will see a student with their friends, a married alumni couple with their kids, or just a casual visitor taking a few minutes to get a picture at the shrine for no other reason than they understand what the sculpture symbolizes. It is such a part of the community and Penn State iconography that nearly every Penn Stater has a Lion Shrine story or their favorite Lion Shrine photo. And, when you see a photo of the shrine, more than with any other campus landmark or image, you instantly feel an indescribable connection with Penn State.”